Chrysler Group LLC’s recall of older Jeep Libertys and Grand Cherokees is expected to begin next month, the automaker said in papers filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
But Chrysler doesn’t seem convinced the fixes will make a big difference.
The recall affects about 1.56 million sport utility vehicles, some as old as 1993 models. The government first asked Chrysler to recall 2.7 million SUVs last month over concerns about fires resulting from rear-end collisions. Chrysler first refused, an almost unheard-of move that led to a two-week-long standoff. Eventually a deal was made in which Chrysler admitted no defect, but agreed to a voluntary recall.
The recall includes 1993 to 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 1992 to 2007 Libertys. Those Jeeps were designed with the gas tank behind the rear axle and below the rear bumper. The traffic safety administration said the design increased the risk of fires, which could be fatal, in rear-end collisions.
The Liberty was made at the Toledo Assembly complex; the Grand Cherokee, at a Detroit plant.
Chrysler argued — and maintains — its vehicles are safe. Still, to add a layer of protection, Chrysler dealers will add a company-designed trailer hitch to vehicles that lack them. On vehicles that do carry aftermarket or factory hitches, dealers will inspect the hitch to ensure they are installed properly and that no sharp edges or other puncture risks exist.
In a letter to the national safety agency, Chrysler Vice President Matthew Liddane characterized the addition of trailer hitches as a way to “incrementally improve the performance of certain of the subject vehicles in certain types of low-speed impacts.”
The traffic safety administration said it identified more than 50 deaths resulting from rear-impact crashes and fires in the Jeep SUVs. In his letter, Mr. Liddane said most were “high-speed, high-energy collisions” and the resulting damage “would not have been prevented by taking any reasonable countermeasure steps with respect to the vehicles, and would have occurred in vehicles of other makes and models.”
In another letter filed with NHTSA last week, Chrysler said it declined the federal agency’s request for a safety recall to address fires in high-speed crashes. “The trailer hitch cannot, and will not, mitigate the risk of the high-energy rear collisions identified in your recall request letter,” Mr. Liddane wrote.
In the deal between Chrysler and NHTSA, the recall excludes Grand Cherokees from 1999 to 2004. Those models originally had been included in NHTSA’s request. Instead, Chrysler will conduct a “customer satisfaction action” and examine any of those models equipped with aftermarket trailer hitches. Those with no hitch, or hitches with factory-installed or Mopar brand, will not be examined.
Chrysler hasn’t said how much it expects to spend on the recall. It will begin notifying owners soon. NHTSA said the average completion rate for vehicle recalls is about 70 percent a year.